Prisoner health is a public health issue.
American prisons host a significant amount of disease, including highly communicable diseases such as Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and Hepatitis. Prisoners have a right under the Eighth Amendment to receive adequate health care during their incarceration. The prison population, however, possesses significantly poorer health than the general population. Because disease does not discriminate, the effects of prisoners’ poor health extend beyond prison walls. Outside workers and visitors to correction facilities, as well as inmates leaving prison to reenter society, can potentially spread these diseases, making prisoner health a public health issue.
Healthcare in prison
Problems in the correctional health system exacerbate the already poor health that many offenders have upon entering prison. Inadequate funding, staff shortages, and the absence of a universal inmate health care policy place prisoners’ rights to medical attention at risk. Lack of communication between prison medical staff and custodial staff produces conflicting priorities that hinder prisoners from receiving the medical services that they need. When prison health providers do not collaborate with community health providers, prisoners’ access to the best care during incarceration and their access to continuity of care upon release are threatened. In addition, releasing prisoners without sufficient prescription medications and access to medical insurance prohibit them from reintegrating into society as healthy individuals.
Prison Fellowship believes that the sanctity of life requires governments to attend to the health of people under their charge. Federal and state governments should establish performance-based standards for prisoner health, and should enforce these standards throughout correctional facilities. Policies should expedite communication between medical and custodial staff as well as coordinate correctional medical staff and community medical staff to facilitate post-release medical care. Prison Fellowship also believes reentry planning should address the health needs of inmates. Pursuing such reforms will ultimately result in safer, healthier communities.